Bobbit Worm

A bobbit worm (Eunice sp.) emerges from its hole in black sand at night to feed. Photo by Dr. Alex Mustard, more can be found on www.amustard.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Annileda
Class: Polychaeta
Order: Einicida
Family: Einicidae
Genus: Eunice
Species: Eunice aphroditis

Annileda is the phylum of segmented worms, with over 22,000 extant species, including leeches and earthworms. Today, I’m going to share with you the shiny rainbow horror that is the bobbit worm.

Eunice aphroditis looks like a creature from a horror writer’s drug-induced fever dream.

Averaging about 3 feet long and 1 inch wide, the bobbit is also a member of the bristle worms. Along each side of its body are paired, spike-like appendages called parapodia. Each fleshy protrusion contains several bristles. The bobbit worm comes in an array of colors, from black to purple to metallic. The body appears to have this shimmery rainbow effect to it, especially in photographs.

The bobbit worm is an ambush predator. It conceals its body, all 3‒10 feet of it, beneath the sand of the seafloor, except for its antennae. When a fish or crustacean brushes up against the antennae, the bobbit worm emerges from the sand to grab its prey and pull it under.

What make this creature appear nightmarish are its powerful mandibles protruding from its mouth and the speed at which it grabs its prey. The mandibles are scissor-like appendages that extend far from the mouth, and they’re used to grab prey. On occasion, the bobbit worm has been seen cutting its prey in half with the mandibles.

The bobbit worm is found in tropical waters, mostly in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Not much is known about its reproduction. They are considered rare, and these worms are hard to find because of how they bury themselves beneath the sand.

Eunice aphroditis supposedly gets their common name from the Bobbitt Case in the 1990s involving a married couple with the last name Bobbitt. It’s a disturbing case to read about, so learn about it at your own risk; it involved domestic abuse and violence between the couple.

Despite its nightmarish appearance, the bobbit worm was pretty interesting to look into. There’s still room for research, so if you’re looking for something to focus on, look into polychaetas and the bobbit worm! If you want an idea for a freaky yet colorful horror thriller, I think this worm might give you an idea or two.

Sources and links:
Ocean the Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Natural History Museum
http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=130053#links
https://eol.org/pages/404312
https://www.ourbreathingplanet.com/bobbit-worm/

Hamelin Cockle

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Bivalvia
Order: Cardiida
Family: Cardiidae
Genus: Fragum
Species: Fragum erugatum

When I wrote about Shell Beach, Australia, I mentioned the Hamelin cockle, Fragum erugatum. Today, I want to expand on what I wrote.

The Hamelin cockle is a bivalve that belongs to the phylum Mollusca, along with oysters, snails, and squids, to name a few. It’s native to the shallow shores of Western Australia, though it is prevalent in Shark Bay and Shell Beach.

Shark Bay is a hypersaline marine environment. Its seagrass beds restrict tidal movement, and the rate of evaporation is higher than the rate of precipitation, which makes the water really salty. In fact, the water is plankton-deficient because the high salinity makes it hard for plankton to survive.

So what does the cockle do for food? Isn’t it a filter feeder like many of its bivalve brethren?

Hamelin cockles are not strict filter feeders. Instead, they have a partnership with our favorite oceanic BFFs, zooxanthellae. Like coral, the cockle receives leftover food from the zooxanthellae in exchange for protection in well-lit waters. Fragum erugatum will siphon plankton from the water when they can, but it’s never enough to sustain them.

The soft body of the cockle is brown, and the photosynthetic algae live in the soft tissue. The shells are white and appear translucent in the light. Fun fact, zooxanthellae also help to collect calcium carbonate that the cockle uses to make its shell. The entire organism is less than 20 millimeters, which is a little smaller than an inch.

Hamelin cockles are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sex organs; however, they still need other individuals to reproduce. Between winter and spring, F. erugatum will release their gametes, or eggs, into the water to be fertilized by other Hamelin cockles. The fertilized eggs develop into zooplankton that float around in the water before they settle to the ground and further develop into cockles.

I find these bivalves to be every interesting. They entered Shark Bay over 4000 years ago and really put forth the effort to make the bay and Shell Beach their home. Most living things do not prosper in extreme conditions, especially in areas of high salinity. However, the Hamelin cockle not only adapted to the hypersaline water, but they prospered so beautifully that they left a noticeable mark in the local geology.

Four thousand years’ worth of cockle shells replaced the sandy beach of Shell Beach. Building material was made from the dense accumulation of these shells that, over time, became cemented together. It just blows my mind to think how successful these tiny little organisms are, and that makes them special!

Sources and links:
Ocean the Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.sharkbay.org/publications/fact-sheets-guides/hamelin-cockle/

Anemones

A close up of jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis). Photo by Dr. Alex Mustard, more can be found at www.amustard.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Actiniaria

I have often heard people refer to sea anemones as flowers or sea flowers, and I always wondered why. Apparently, these organisms gained their common name because their bright colors reminded people of the terrestrial anemone flower.

It makes sense why people would consider sea anemones as flowers. Sea anemones don’t appear to move, they’re brightly colored, and their tentacles can resemble petals. However, like their coral and jellyfish cousins, sea anemones are animals.

A sea anemone is a single large polyp that lacks any skeletal structure and contains stinging cells called nematocysts. They have cylindrical bodies that are attached to hard substrates by their adhesive pedal disk, or foot. Its mouth, or oral disk, rests near the top of the body and is surrounded by tentacles, which they can retract into their body when feeling threatened.

Sea anemones come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. There are over 1000 species that range from half an inch wide to over 6 feet wide. They appear in various shades of blue, green, yellow, and red. Many species are more than one color or shade; often, the tentacles can be a different color than the body. Species in warm tropical waters are often larger and more colorful than sea anemones found in deeper, colder water.

Sea anemones are found in every ocean. They can be found at various depths, from shallow water to over 3000 meters deep in the ocean. They inhabit various crevices of coral reefs, rocky substrates, and sea walls. Some have been recorded on the backs of sea turtles.

Sea anemones are carnivores. They feed on planktonic organisms, crustaceans, small fish, and occasionally mollusks and sea urchins. The tentacles of sea anemones are used in defense and for capturing food. These stinging tentacles are touch sensitive. When potential prey brush up against the tentacles, harpoon-like filaments, called nematocysts, are launched at the prey. The nematocyst hooks into the prey and releases a neurotoxin that paralyzes the creature, then the tentacles pull the prey to the oral disk to be consumed.

Some organisms are immune to the stinging tentacles and coexist with various species of sea anemones.

Many people are aware of clownfish and their mutualistic relationship with sea anemones. Clownfish have a unique adaptation that allow them to live within the tentacles of the anemone. The sea anemone provides protection for the clownfish, and the clownfish will keep the anemone clean and lure potential prey to the anemone.

Other symbiotic relationships with sea anemones include various small crustaceans and zooxanthellae.

The stinging tentacles of the sea anemone don’t protect it from every organism. Various species of starfish, sea slugs, eels, and some species of fish prey upon anemones. Occasionally, sea turtles have been recorded munching on sea anemones when given the chance.

I don’t believe there is a Cnidarian that I don’t find fascinating. At the aquarium where I volunteer, there’s an exhibit that shows how some sea anemones rely on wave action to supply them with food. It’s one of my favorite exhibits because it’s so bright and colorful, and I find it relaxing to watch. Every few minutes, the exhibit simulates incoming waves, and you can watch the water whooshing down toward the sea anemones.

Sources and links:
Reef Creature Identification Florida Caribbean Bahamas 3rd edition by Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and Les Wilk
Ocean: A Visual Encyclopedia (Smithsonian) by John Woodward
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/group/sea-anemones/
https://www.britannica.com/animal/sea-anemone
https://aqua.org/Experience/Animal-Index/anemones
https://animals.net/sea-anemone/

Plastic-Free July 2020

Hellllllloooo, and welcome to July!

I know I’m a bit late, but hopefully I can make up for that later. Anyways, July is the month when a lot of companies participate in Plastic-Free challenges.

You can check out the month long event here on the ecochallenge website!

During the month of July, you can participate in the challenges either by yourself or with a team. This year, I joined up with my aquarium! If you want to be part of a team, you can make one for your work, friends, or family. All you have to do is create a team and send email invites to everyone you want to participate.

Once you got yourself set up, you can take a look at all the different challenges the website has for the event. The challenges are divided into different categories and are rated based on difficulty. Some of the challenges are really easy, like switching to bamboo toothbrushes. Others are more difficult, like promising to prepare one meal a day or week that doesn’t involve any kind of plastic–like at all. You can even make your own challenges that will apply specifically to you!

Each challenge has an option to “learn more” where the website provides you with more information. If you want to switch to bamboo toothbrushes, then they provide some links to help you buy the best one for you. Some challenges also provide links to videos or blogs explaining more about one topic or another. There’s even some how-to links if you want to, say, make your own deodorant.

This month, the challenges are divided into 6 categories: food, personal care, community, lifestyle, pets, and family. So there’s a wide variety of activities to choose from!

Each activity rewards you points. You can see how many points you have earned and how many your team has earned. To my knowledge, there are no “prizes” for having the most points. The point system is there to help make you feel good and to give your team the opportunity to come up with their own rewards.

Now, please remember, that these activities are voluntary and are no way a reflection on you as a person. If you can’t do some of the activities for one reason or another, that it completely OK. There should be no shame or guilt if you can’t do something. Remember, it’s all the little things that count!

Please check out the plastic-free ecochallenge! I will be participating this month and hope to have some plastic-related posts for you guys as well. If we all work together, then we can accomplish amazing things!

I’m Back!

Terribly sorry that I took a longer break than expected! A lot of stuff happened and what was supposed to be an “easy fix” evolved into something larger.

But I’m back now and I promise to try and post something every day!

Thank you for your patience. Now let’s get back to talking about the ocean and ways we can make a difference. 🙂

Temporary Hiatus

Hello!

I’m terribly sorry that I don’t have any new content for you guys. Unfortunately, a minor health concern has come up. I hope to be posting again by the end of the week or by Father’s Day.

Hope you all have a wonderful day and stay healthy!

 

Tawny Nurse Shark

A group of tawny nurse sharks (Nebris ferrungineus) circling each other at dusk. This behaviour may be related to reproduction, the female, top, looks heavily pregnant in this photo and the male, below, might be able to sense she is soon to give birth. Note in the background there is another group of sharks circling each other. Photo by Alexander Mustard, for more go to www.amustard.com

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Orectolobiformes
Family: Ginglymostomatidae
Genus: Nebrius
Species: Nebrius ferrugineus

I have this kids’ picture book that illustrates 1000 things you can find in the sea, and I use it on occasion to decide what I’m going to research next. I haven’t written about a shark in a while, so I decided to research the Tawny Nurse Shark, also called Nebrius ferrugineus. Though to her friends, she’s referred to as Madame X…

I wish I was kidding about the common name Madame X . Supposedly, the common name was coined in the 1930s by a shark fisherman that found a specimen in Australian waters; before then, it had not been recorded in those areas.

The tawny nurse shark is located in the Indian Ocean, and the in western and southwestern areas of the Pacific Ocean. This shark hangs out near or on the bottom in sheltered areas, including lagoons, channels, seagrass beds, caves on the outskirts of coral reefs, crevices in coral reefs, and right off beaches. They sleep together in secluded areas during the day and hunt for prey at night.

Around the mouth, tawny nurse sharks have barbels—whisker-like appendage—that help them sense prey. They eat small fish and benthic organisms (creatures that live on the seafloor), including crustaceans, sea urchins, and some cephalopods. When it finds potential food, the shark creates a suction to pull the prey out of hiding and into its mouth, where comb-like teeth help to break up hard shells.

This is a pretty docile shark. Divers consider it a favorite because the shark allows the divers to approach it, even touch it. However, when harassed, it will fight back and has been recorded to cause non-fatal bite injuries.

Please do not touch sea creatures unless you have the specific training to do so! You would lash out too if a stranger came up and started putting their hands all over you.

Tawny nurse sharks are considered vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List, and their population numbers are declining. They have a limited home range, so their immediate environment is very important to them. Some populations are declining due to overfishing of the nearby reefs. Some sharks get caught up in gill nets and die as bycatch.

Bycatch refers to any creature that isn’t the target of the catch. So if fisherman are using nets to catch tuna, then anything that isn’t tuna that gets caught up in the net is considered bycatch. Typically, bycatch is thrown back into the ocean, whether it’s alive or dead, because most fishing boats have a bycatch limit.

Tawny nurse sharks are also considered game in some countries. Their “fighting spirit” and strength make them a popular shark to fish for, especially in competitive fishing. Some areas will eat the meat of the tawny nurse shark and ship the fins to Asian countries.

If we’re not careful, this is another species of shark that can disappear before we know it, especially since it has a low reproductive rate. A balance between the fishing industry’s needs and proper fishing regulations must be found in order to address this issue.

Sources and links:
Ocean the Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/nebrius-ferrugineus/ ⇐lots of information
https://www.sharks.org/tawny-nurse-shark-nebrius-ferrugineus ⇐brief overview
https://www.fishbase.de/summary/Nebrius-ferrugineus.html
https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1974#moreinfo ⇐talks about the Australian populations
https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/41835/10576661

Longnose Butterflyfish

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciforms
Family: Chaetodontidae
Genus: Forcipiger
Species: Forcipiger longirostris

Butterflyfish, like butterflies, come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Today, I’m going to introduce you to the longnose butterflyfish, or Forcipiger longirotris.

Longnose butterflyfish are distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean, including around the islands of Oahu and Maui of the Hawaiian island chain. These fish are found on the very edges of seaward reefs, or coral reefs that extend toward the sea.

When you look at the genus name Forcipiger, does anything pop-out at you? Forcip-iger

Forceps are pincer-like instruments made for grasping and holding objects, similar to tweezers. Forceps are typically used in medical and surgical situations.

Forcipiger refers to how the organism feeds, grasping and eating prey whole. The species name longirotris describes the fish’s long snout. F. longirotris feed on small crustaceans found in the rocky crevices of the reef, or they suck them right off of branching coral.

Most individuals of this species are bright yellow with a black head, and a long, thin, silvery-white snout. Rare individuals have been recorded as all black or brown instead of yellow, though this color change has never been recorded in an aquarium. All longnose butterflyfish have a clear caudal (tail) fin, but the rest of their fins are yellow. Near the base of its tail fin is a black spot called an eyespot.

A defense tactic, eyespots are spots on an organism that resemble eyes to confuse predators. Eyespots are typically located away from the head and anything vital. For fish, it’s to fool predators into thinking that the tail end of the fish is the head, especially since the eyes of F. longirotris are hidden in the black coloring of its head. For insects, these eyespots can look like the eyes of other organisms. Eyespots are a common defense found on fish, reptiles, and insects, and each group uses them differently.

Longnose butterfly fish have often been observed in pairs. These fish form monogamous pairs during the breeding season, though it’s unclear if the same two would pair up in the next breeding season. The female releases thousands of eggs into the water column to be carried elsewhere in the water current.

I’ve swum around reefs in the Pacific Ocean twice, once in Hawai’i and once off the Great Barrier Reef. Both times were snorkel only, so I didn’t explore too deep around the reefs, and I doubt I would have seen these fish. I hope to fix that someday because these guys look impressive with their long noses!
There is potential research for Forcipiger longirotris. One, there’s no clear explanation as to why some individuals change their color to all-black or brown and why it’s never done in an aquarium setting. Two, they are labeled as Least Concern by IUCN Red List, but their population numbers haven’t been evaluated since 2009, so there is potential research in re-evaluating their population numbers.

Sources and links:
https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/425#moreinfo
https://www.waikikiaquarium.org/experience/animal-guide/fishes/butterflyfishes/longnose-butterflyfish/
https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Forcipiger-longirostris.html
https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/165667/6085300

Hang-drying Clothes

At my Grandad’s farmhouse, I remember there were these posts set up with three or four plastic lines strung from post to post. On these lines you would hang your clothes to dry. I have no memories of clothes hanging there on windy summer days, but I imagine it’s what my grandparents had used for decades before they got an electric dryer.

Hang-drying clothes is something that people have been doing for hundreds of years. Wind and sunlight are free, so why not use them?

A few months ago, I decided to set up a clothesline. I knew that our energy bill was only going to increase as the weather warmed up, and I wanted to do everything I could to negate the costs. When five people live in the same place, there’s rarely a day when the laundry room isn’t being used.

I can’t estimate how much money I’ve saved by not using my dryer. Our energy bills have increased since the start of the pandemic because everyone is in the house all the time, so more energy is being used than in past months. However, I can tell you that I personally feel better about hang-drying my clothes.

This won’t be ideal for everyone because not everyone has the space to do this.

At my home, I’ve tied a 50 foot clothesline between two trees and used a tall metal stake to give the line extra support in the middle. With my setup, I can dry a full load of laundry on the line at a time. My setup won’t work for everyone, so you would have to do some research to see what works best for your space.

Here are some things to consider:
1. Where should I hang my clothes to dry?

You can hang your clothes to dry inside or outside, depending on what you have available to you. If you hang-dry inside, there are things you can buy that can help you. For instance, you can buy mountable clotheslines that you can screw into a wall or a post. There are also bars you can attach in your windows.

Sometimes you can take advantage of your home’s heating system. My parents have a device mounted flat on the wall above a floor vent that is based on a popular design from the Victorian era. This is more suitable for hanging lightweight items.

2. Where should I hang my clothes outside?

The best place to set up a clothesline or a drying rack is an area that gets the most sunlight and easy access to the wind. You can set the line up in the shade, like I did; just realize that they’ll dry slower in the shade than the sunlight. My parents use their deck railing to dry comforters and blankets.

3. Always be aware of the weather.

Days with high humidity and low wind are the worst for drying clothes. Trust me; I just had a day when I didn’t check the weather, and my towels took several hours to dry because the humidity was so high! So there’s a bit of planning involved when it comes to hanging your clothes.

Days that are too windy may not be the best either because you might lose some of your clothes. So look up the weather ahead of time and keep an eye on your clothes!

4. Always read the laundry labels on your clothes.
Sometimes hanging your clothes on the line will stretch out your clothes, especially sweaters and other knit items. If your clothes need to be laid out flat to dry, then hanging them from the line won’t be the best option for them.

Those are just a few things to consider. I’m pretty new at this, and some things have been a little tricky for me. I learned the hard way that humidity plays a major role in the drying rate of your clothes.

If you want to lower your energy consumption, this is a great way to do so if you can. I understand that not everyone can do this, or do it efficiently enough to give up the dryer. For those of you who can, give it a try!

Not only have I not used my dryer in two months and don’t miss it, but I haven’t had the need to buy dryer sheets or things to get the static out of my clothes. Also, I’ve noticed that our pet’s hair gets removed from our clothes when on the line.

Some people claim that air-dried clothes smell better than machine dried clothes, but I haven’t noticed that yet.

There are some cons to this: you’ll have to plan your laundry around the weather, and you may need to factor more time into your laundry. It may also not be efficient to hang-dry your clothes depending on your space.

The pros, however, include less energy spent each month and therefore cheaper electric bills. You’ll also save money on dryer sheets or dryer balls to combat static, which also means less trash in the garbage.

Remember, this is just a suggestion. If you can hang-dry your clothes, I suggest giving it a try because you might find that you like it. If you can’t, I completely understand!

Everyone needs to do what’s best for them and their lifestyle. I don’t know your circumstances, but I trust that you’ll make the best decisions for you. There’s no guilt in saying no.

Links:
https://home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/tips-for-line-drying-your-clothes.htm
https://104homestead.com/line-dry-clothes-winter/

Gulf of Guinea

Let’s travel to the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, right off the coast of Africa. Between Cape López, near the Equator, and Cape Palmas lies a body of water known as the Gulf of Guinea.

The Volta River and the third largest river in Africa, the Niger River, are the major rivers that feed into the Gulf of Guinea. Because of the runoff from these two rivers, and the high amounts of rain along West Africa, the gulf’s water is lower in salinity than other parts of the ocean. This warm water is separated from deeper, colder, saltier water by a shallow thermocline.

A thermocline is a thin, distinct layer in a body of water that marks when the temperature of the water rapidly changes with depth. In the ocean, it separates the upper mixed layer near the surface and the deep, calm water below. Thermoclines exist in the atmosphere as well.

Off the coast of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, a seasonal coastal upwelling forms in the gulf. An upwelling occurs when cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep is brought up to the surface water. This nutrient-rich water creates a boom of activity that attracts organisms from every level of the food chain, including fish, birds, and mammals. When the nutrients are depleted, the organisms move on.

The Gulf of Guinea has been nominated as a Hope Spot. The beaches around the gulf contain prime nesting sites for leatherback sea turtles, which are a threatened species. Sea turtles grow for many years before they reach sexual maturity, and the process of reproduction can be fatal to females. Newly hatched sea turtles have a high mortality rate because of predation before they reach the ocean and from human activity. It’s extremely important to protect these nesting sites.

Within the Gulf of Guinea lies the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, which contains vital habitat for humpback whales, African manatees, dolphins, and soft corals. Humpback whales are considered endangered by the IUCN Red List their populations are threatened by whalers and by getting struck by cruise liners and cargo ships. African manatees are classified as vulnerable.

The Niger River is being explored for oil and gas mining, which could have a serious impact on the Gulf of Guinea. Luckily, non-government organizations (NGOs) have been working hard with both government and international partners to develop green practices to extract those natural resources. The NGOs have also been developing full-scale wildlife law enforcement programs to protect the gulf and its wildlife.

This is definitely a cool Hope Spot and I wish them the best of luck. If you travel to any of the beaches containing turtle nesting sites, see if there are any volunteer programs you can join. I know in the US there are volunteer programs that help get the baby sea turtles into the water. May not be the ideal vacation plan, but it’ll be something memorable to share with your friends and family!

Sources:
https://mission-blue.org/hope-spots/
https://www.britannica.com/place/Gulf-of-Guinea